Struggling Lidge to remain Phils' closer
Dubee says veteran reliver must show more conviction
NEW YORK -- Something is not right with Phillies closer Brad Lidge.
He blew his second save of the weekend Sunday in a 4-3 victory over the Yankees in 11 innings at Yankee Stadium, and has blown four saves in 12 opportunities this season.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Lidge remains his closer.
Is Lidge healthy? He said he is.
Has his stuff gone south? The Phillies point to the radar gun, which shows Lidge's fastball is still 94 to 95 mph.
"It's not like his fastball is 90," catcher Chris Coste said. "His slider is still pretty hard. It's still got good depth to it."
Is it his location? Lidge entered Sunday throwing more balls this season, but only incrementally more than last season: 40.9 percent balls compared to 38.1 percent last year. Then again, the perception that Lidge is throwing many more balls could make a difference in what pitches hitters swing at in certain situations, even though statistically they are swinging at about the same percentage of pitches as last season (44.2 percent this year compared to 43.1 percent last year).
"An opposing player even said that," Coste said. "He said him and [Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez] ... people aren't swinging quite as much."
Coaches and teammates have gotten together to find an explanation why Lidge is struggling. Chase Utley and Matt Stairs have studied film to see if Lidge is tipping his pitches. It is believed he is not. Before Alex Rodriguez hit a game-tying, two-run home run against Lidge on Saturday, he swung at a slider that made it look like he was looking for a fastball, an indicator he did not know which pitch was coming.
Then what is it?
"It's being committed to what he's doing," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He's caught up in, 'Throw a slider here or a fastball there?' Instead of just being committed, 'Hey, I'm going to throw this here and I'm going to throw it to a certain spot.'"
Lidge didn't disagree. "I think sometimes you can second guess when certain things aren't working," Lidge said. "Am I throwing too many sliders or I need to do this or that. That's why today I said, 'Put your finger down and I'm going to throw it.' I did and I got it to where I wanted to, and that was a real good feeling. To be honest, this might be one of the first games this year where I felt like every fastball I threw went where I wanted. I haven't had that kind of command this year." Lidge went 48-for-48 in save opportunities last season, including the postseason, but opponents were hitting .333 against him this season after they hit .198 against him last season.
"He does expect perfection," Dubee said. "He does. He expects a lot of himself. And when you don't get it you start to wonder why. His behavior has to change. That's all."
Dubee said hitters aren't swinging at Lidge's slider as much because he isn't throwing his fastball for strikes. If Lidge can't throw the fastball for strikes, the hitters just sit on the slider. And if the slider doesn't start up in the strike zone, they know it's going to be a ball.
So they sit on that, too.
"If it's not up, you take it," he said.
After Lidge blew his third save of the season Saturday in a 5-4 loss to the Yankees, he talked about his lack of command coming out of the bullpen and said how he might try pitching out of the stretch to start an inning.
"He's talked about that before," Dubee said. "Again, he needs to be decisive. Not maybe do this or that. Not maybe a fastball, maybe a slider. One or the other. Be committed to what you're doing. And that's where he is. He's just searching right now for the right way to go about it. Once his head gets cleared up and his attitude and his commitment to his pitches, Brad Lidge is going to be fine."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.